Long resigned to surrendering the trophy, Chelsea made its impact on the top of the table Sunday by inflicting 10-man Arsenal’s first home loss since the opening day of the Premier League season.
Arsenal appeared doomed from the 18th minute when captain Per Mertesacker was dismissed and Diego Costa scored the only goal of the game five minutes later.
The 1-0 defeat saw Arsenal slip from first to third this weekend and allowed Leicester to regain a lead which was as unanticipated in August as Chelsea’s freefall.
It was yet another uncomfortable day for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger against Chelsea, which hasn’t lost to its London rival in the league for five years.
Wenger was booed by his own fans over a bewildering substitution straight after Mertesacker’s lunge on Diego Costa.
Gabriel was brought on to replace forward Olivier Giroud and the defender failed to track Costa at the near post in the 23rd minute when Chelsea went in front.
Arsenal never recovered from the early double blow, giving Chelsea one of the most comfortable days of a pitiful title defense.
The result extended Guus Hiddink’s unbeaten run since replacing fired Jose Mourinho to eight games, although the team has still only moved up to 13th place. The fourth Champions League place, 14 points away, looks unobtainable.
“We’ve drawn too many of late so we needed to pick up three points,” Chelsea captain John Terry said.
Arsenal has now collected only two points from its last three games as it chases a first league title since 2004.
The Gunners rarely looked like scoring. Mathieu Flamini flicked the ball over with the final touch of the first half while unmarked in front of goal - a display of extravagance when precision was required.
Even Alexis Sanchez’s return in the second half, after two months out injured, made little impact. In a goalmouth scramble when the ball pinged between Arsenal players, none were able to apply the finishing touch, with Sanchez managing an air-shot.
It summed up Arsenal’s derby day.